If there were more hours in the day, Wayne Heinrichs might never have taken up winter grazing.
But bale shredding and refilling paddocks were taking the better part of an afternoon and those were hours the Brandonarea cattle producer didn’t have. So a few years ago, Heinrichs began looking at ways to extend the grazing season.
Today, he uses standing corn, swathed cereals and hay for winter feeding on his farm, a 160- head cow/calf operation that also includes 30 bred heifers.
He first heard about this form of winter feeding at grazing club meetings a few years ago, and obtained support from the Westman Agricultural Diversification Organization (WADO), which manages value-added and diversified research and demonstration projects in the southwest.
It supported a proposal and provided seed to Heinrichs and nine other farmers. The trials lasted several years, and included trying out different corn varieties, Heinrichs told attendees on the Manitoba Forage Council’s pasture tour last week.
Research project participants measured cob size, kernel size, leaf loss, digestibility, and spring feed quality of the top two-thirds and bottom one-third of the corn plant.
Searching for optimum digestibility, Heinrichs concluded that grazing strictly on corn wasn’t best.
“The energy level was so high,” he said, adding that he observed the cows stiffened and developed bellyaches.
It was at that point he began adding bales to the standing corn. This coming January, his cattle will graze a cornfield with bales set out in the fall. The bales will about 50 feet apart, and placed along two electric fencelines in accordance to calculations Heinrichs has made on number of cows to be fed, numbers of days of winter feeding, and estimated grain in the field.
Once every three days, he’ll take 30 to 40 minutes to move the fence. Three days seems to work well as the cattle do not overload on grain and it balances their ration, he said.
Hay is sorted by quality, and placed so cows won’t reach the best feed until later in the winter when they’re in later gestation. Snow is the water source.
For each day, Heinrichs allots each cow about 10 to 12 pounds of corn grain, 10 to 12 pounds of alfalfa hay, and 10 to 14 pounds of swathed cereal, or he may substitute swaths with poorer-quality hay.
Heinrichs has calculated the cost at about 35 cents per 10 pounds of grain corn per head per day (based on corn crop costing about $200 per acre to seed).
“The way you can work that number is if I get 100-bushels-an- acre corn, you’ll have 5,600 pounds of grain out there,” he said. “Take $200 and divide by 5,600; it’s going to be about 3-1/2 cents a pound to actually grow that corn. If I was going to purchase that corn at $7 a bushel, it would be costing me $1.20 a day.”
All told, the cost per day per cow is about a buck, he says – less if the value of the fertilizer the cows leave behind is factored in.
“And basically, it allows me to work full time at another job which otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do,” Heinrichs says. “It allows me to stay in the cattle business in a significant way and it gives me a lot more free time for my family. I’m not living with the cows.”